Thank You Keith !! ... Every 7/31, from any year, was a Big Bouncing party. Perhaps 7/31/73 was the hottest (and not simply the hottest of the b-day eve shows!) - but The Palace was the place to be in '94. In the spirit of this site I'd like to offer an enthusiastic and extensive review of this show, which I attended in various ways.
Finding this recording on the archive confirmed what I'd always remembered - that the band was having a Good-Time SuperSonic Birthday Party for JG, particularly in the way of vocal harmonies. Don't be deceived by the naysayers, gossips, and journalists, folks. Welnick was as good a piano player and harmony vocalist as any the band ever had. Had this particular constellation of the band had a chance to develop and round out their sound beyond '95, I suspect their vocal-harmony would have been an increasingly prominent and delightful part of it. This show gives a great idea of the potential they were already tapping into in this regard - both as a group, and in terms of the new emotional range Garcia was bringing to his ballad singing, as if certain parts of his singing could only get better regardless of the state of his solo guitar playing on a given night. Listen to the choruses on Loose Lucy, Speedway, He's Gone, Black Peter and the The Weight. Welnick blends with Weir on The Midnight Hour as well as anyone ever did...But Jerry's back-porch singing fired up The Palace that night throughout the show, more than compensating for any occasional lyric amnesia or lack of definition in his single-string soloing. Although it's not hard to find shows (and not only in 94!) where strengths don't quite conquer weaknesses, I'd say his guitar playing here is at worst only rhythmically reliable, but more often than not above average for 94, and even surprising at more than a few points; to my ear then and now, he's much more musically, consistently articulate here than the previous and legendary 'Rain' show at Buckeye Lake on 7/29, or the next night in the Palace on 8/1, or the remainder of this summer tour for that matter.
I'm a big fan of all the phases and strengths of this band, and while JG's guitar playing was more than satisfactory on 7/31, his SINGING throughout that night in the Palace was easily the most powerful, enthusiastic, and consistently surprising I had the fortune to hear in person(see the multiple reviews of his rendition of Stella Blue on the next night on 8/1). He led extended call-and-response choruses to cap Speedway and He's Gone. Lots of Birthday Love in the Palace, folks; from TOG on, every song felt like a celebration of the (im)mortality of Garcia's muse... For those of us who didn't get to catch this band before the 90s, well, to hear JG belting out Loose Lucy, kicking off Speedway, obviously relishing the concluding choral rounds of He's Gone, and taking his lilting time on Black Peter in Detroit that night was Somethin' Else!! While some shows could be full-time scorching rockers, taking Chuck Berry to new nuclear conclusions, other shows (like this one, to my ears) accent another place - where songs like Mountains of the Moon and Brokedown Palace come from... Perhaps shows like 5/8/77 are so iconic because of the balance struck between these two places? ...
The band sounds like it starts to relax and congeal in the 2nd half of LR Road, and they're in steady gear by the time they splice some tight Mexicali Blues between Me & My Uncle and a Big River. JG's guitar starts to sparkle in the River after Welnick helps him out with a break that's as good as anything Godchaux laid down on a tune like this. After flashing in the earlier RJimmy, a nice psychedelic undercurrent shows up again in the River - a heavy churn on the low end, that continues for the rest of the show - I hear it especially @ 4:35>5:00...Then JG's voice turns it up another notch with a Loose Lucy, where you can hear the audience really settling into the evening's proceedings - check out Lucy's face-theft at 2:44-45 - and the strengths increasingly and easily overcome weaknesses from here on out.
The two sequences I'd recommend to prospective listeners are M&MU>Mex>BR>LL from the 1st 'River' set - easily one of the best 1st sets of '94 (a reviewer of this show's soundboard recording described this set as one of the best he'd heard in 25 years of attending GD concerts), and the 2nd set chain of Speedway (JG forgets seconds of lyric alongside some of his best singing that night)>Truckin(check out 4:34-6:00, one of the finer, precious peaks of this tour, if not the year)>HG>D/S ...And if you listen to the first minute of Black Peter, you'll listen to the rest of it. I wouldn't hesitate to nominate this BP as one of the best renditions of this tune these guys ever laid down. I'd nominate this He's Gone as the best of its 90s versions w/Welnick -(check out 2:27>5:10 if you're the very Jerry cherry-picker). To my ears it sounds even better than similar renditions with Hornsby in the earlier 90s - less saturated and more back-porchy - and by now the churn is rolling pretty heavy folks, but this time around it's knotted to the best group vocal improvisation/interplay I ever heard live from these guys. What a combination!! ... Way to Go Home never managed to strike much of a chord with me, but fans of this tune should know that its strong performance here, before Speedway, is included in the So Many Roads box-set, and thus stands as a virtually definitive version.
...In my acoustic vicinity that night, D>S scared people. To those who love the band but didn't get to see them, I'd stress that this Sound wasn't "over there," coming from the stage. This band was not afraid of a Volume that, in this case, made The Palace itself pulse with vibration. The entire building would literally quiver, heave - so,of course every molecular synapse in every square inch of your body had no choice but to be involved. Owsley Stanley said this band's music 'scared' him the first time he really heard it live(listen to the beginning of Part II of the David Ganz/Owsley interview archived on this site). Well, folks, despite the naysaying, this band could scare you in 1994. Check out this fine recording's "Drums" on the appropriate audio equipment - it's really choice, quality stuff, on par with anything from 'Infrared Roses' - especially between 6:30
and 11:10.... the gong dropping @ the 7-minute mark is where I vividly remember starting to feel compromised on a cellular level. On this recording you can hear the audience saturating as the portal swells open(notably at 7:30
and 8:50). A buddy in my group had to leave The Palace after being sonically s(m)eared by what started happening @ 9:45-11:00... This was like the end of the Raiders of the Lost Ark, folks - open your eyes and the death angels might laugh too loud, and melt your face. My buddy didn't speak much during the following month - and though he's fine now, he'd probably agree w/ Ralpha2569(see below) that this show was 'horrific' - but perhaps not in Ralpha's exact sense of the word. Don't underestimate Dead Sonics, folks! .... I remember having the vivid impression of this 7/31 D>S as an indoor continuation of the Storm that dropped on 7/29...
Overall, I'd say 7/31/94 stands out as a glimpse into the potential strengths of this specific incarnation of the band. What we lost in '95 wasn't the ability to go hear this band 'try to sound like their former selves' - but the possibility of even more magic, of a thankfully and necessarily new kind. These guys pulled off some pretty tight/seamless transitions (the Mex splice is a good example, alongside Speedway>Truckin, and HG>Drums); the continuity of the 2nd set is musically thematic and virtually unbroken, with the possible exception of the end of Last Time. Really delightful recipe of top-notch, almost country vocal blends(the tone on Jerry's guitar sounds very acoustic to me, and you can hear him tickling the Deep Elem Blues before TOG), with plenty of rumbling psychedelic undertow, exemplary D>S Sonics, and +Festive birthday energy. Keith's recording glimpses our satisfaction on the 31st - check out our hefty stomp before the encore.
I'd like to re-iterate my gratitude to the archivists and everybody who enjoyed the party in Auburn Hills that night - easily the best show I saw that summer, and the most psychedelic stretches of music I've ever heard live.